Nonprofit journalism dedicated to creating a Human Age we actually want to live in.


Ride-hailing has a climate problem

Ride-hailing has a bigger climate-warming impact than you might think, but there are ways to reduce it.
March 5, 2020

Let the best of Anthropocene come to you.

The sharing economy, in which people rent goods, cars and homes instead of owning them, is thought to cut down energy consumption and reduce climate impacts. But that might be a myth at least for transportation, shows a new report.

Ride-hailing trips on services such as Uber and Lyft create about 70 percent more pollution on average than the trips they replace, according to the analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists. “In communities across the country, ride-hailing is increasing vehicle travel, climate pollution, and congestion,” the authors write.

Since Uber’s debut a decade ago, the ride-hailing and sharing industry has grown explosively around the world. These services are making it easier than ever to keep your car at home or not buy one in the first place. But they are a climate problem for two reasons, the report states. One is that they increase the number of car trips overall, by steering people away from walking, biking, taking public transport, or just skipping the trip. The other reason is that ride-hailing increases the number of miles a car travels to get from place to place between passengers.

The UCS researchers used publicly available data sources to compare emissions from a private car trip versus a ride-hailing trip in seven large urban areas: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC. They also compared emissions from private car trips and ride-hailing trips to those from public transit and other trips that are displaced by ride-hailing trips.

Ride-hailing generates 47% more emissions than a personal vehicle trip in a similar fuel efficiency vehicle, the numbers showed. A pooled ride-hailing trip, however, creates about the same emissions as a private car trip.

Recommended Reading:
Could market forces be harnessed to rescue habitat worldwide? Some scientists think so.

The scientists suggest two key ways for ride-hailing companies to reduce their emissions. One is a turn to electric vehicles and the other is to increase the share of car-pooling. “If ride-hailing companies switch to EVs and increase the share of pooling to 50 percent, emissions would be 52 percent lower than the displaced trips,” the authors say.

They also urge policymakers to improve mass transit, improve walking and biking infrastructure, and enact laws that would help to electrify ride-sharing fleets.

Source: Don Anair et al. Ride-Hailing’s Climate Risks: Steering a Growing Industry toward a Clean Transportation Future. Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists. 2020.

Our work is available free of charge and advertising. We rely on readers like you to keep going. Donate Today

What to Read Next

Anthropocene Magazine Logo

Get the latest sustainability science delivered to your inbox every week


You have successfully signed up

Share This

Share This Article